Mamushka, Olia Hercules


February 2022

The cold beetroot soup in Mamushka is almost certainly (I hate making big decisions) my soup of 2022. It’s a light broth for which you brine the beetroots for two days (no effort, just dunk in vinegar solution and leave) then dice (a bit more effort because of all the pink that gets everywhere), then serve with a zingy spring smorgasbord of garnishes, including radish, cucumber, dill and spring onions. I’ve also added chopped boiled egg. When I said beetroot soup, most people, myself included, thought borscht but that needs a meat stock and this is vegan.

I re-read Mamushka back in February so that I could hold a #CookforUkraine dinner to raise a bit of money. The Russian invasion was new and raw and horrifying. I made the soup along with stuffed cabbage leaves, pickled mackerel, a blood orange and olive salad and something with courgettes, and Lisa brought a stupendous baked apple cheesecake, which I Iater recalled we’d eaten before at an event Olia Hercules did to launch Summer Kitchens at Honey & Smoke, in autumn 2019.

I have wanted to write about Olia’s food since she published Mamushka in 2015. I looked up the many emails in which I tried, and failed, to convince editors at The Independent that she was interesting, that her style of cooking was delicious and accessible, that the blend of Soviet-era cabbage and potatoes and bountiful Mediterranean flavours was impossible not to fall for. She shares a lot of pleasure as a cook but her work as a food historian is equally important.

Later this year, in June, I interviewed her for her recent book, Home Food, which you can read here. She talks about cooking as an act of defiance, and how she is sharing Ukrainian culture around the world. Follow her Instagram for updates on Ukraine, her family and how you can help.

I highly recommend all of her books - Mamushka, Kaukausis, Summer Kitchens and Home Food. Many of the recipes are simple, though there are also plenty of skills to practise, such as pastry and dumplings. I need more dumplings in my life. One can never have too many.